Comfort food comes in all shapes and sizes, and, in the case of chicken cacciatore, it also comes in all manner of definitions. I was able to narrow down that it comes from cacciare, which means to shoo something away and that cacciatore means to hunt and that the dish is hunter style but that was about it. I considered asking a relative but I was afraid the answer would be something like (please say this in your head with a Brooklyn style Italian accent) "Oh, yeah, chicken cacciatore was invented by your great uncle in Abbruzzi. When he went out cacciatorin’ his wife had to shoo the chickens out of the kitchen before he left. And well, the one that wouldn't get out, forget about it, into the fryin’ pan."
The world may never know.
Let us assume that the dish is reminiscent of our western dishes used to serve the cowboys on the range. Chicken cacciatore is rustic, down-home and delicious. There are many variations on the dish as well. Many have mushrooms, some are served over noodles, some over rice, although I am fairly certain the rice was never served in any part of Renaissance Italy ... ever.
The traditional dish we make today is combination of recipes that are classic in every sense with one exception — the chicken. This dish calls for chicken pieces both white and dark and with the skin and the bones. Now in an effort to be healthy I have used only skinless breast meat. Also, I really despise eating chicken on the bone; to me it is just too much eating the flesh reality and in the words of author Dean Koontz “Humans just can’t handle too much reality." I am no exception to the rule.
Now when cooking with skinless breast meat you have to take some measures to ensure that the chicken stays moist throughout the cooking process. I have a tried and true, albeit nontraditional method — brining. We will begin there before the real recipe even gets started. Take your chicken breasts and lay then in a large bowl and cover with water. Add ¼ cup of salt and of sugar. I also added a couple of cloves of crushed garlic and three sage leaves. Cover and stick this in the fridge for a couple of hours. It is a guarantee that the chicken will stay juicy.
Now let’s cook and celebrate that we do not have to hunt for our chicken, shoo it out of the kitchen or wrestle it into the frying pan ourselves.
Large bowl for brining
Large skillet with a lid
Small bowl for dredging the chicken
6 chicken breasts
2 teaspoons salt, more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more to taste
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red bell pepper, in rings
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3/4 cup dry white wine (I use cooking wine)
1 can of tomato sauce or chopped tomatoes with juices
3/4 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons drained capers
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
Putting It All Together
Take the chicken breasts out of the brine water and lay on a plate to dry; you can dab them with a paper towel to help the process. Add the olive oil to the skillet and heat on medium-high. In the small bowl put your flour. Take salt and pepper and season both sides of the chicken. Coat the chicken with the flour and add to the hot skillet. Cook the chicken until the outside is just brown. Remove the chicken and set aside. Now take the onions, peppers and garlic and add it to the same pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute until the onions are soft but not caramel in color, about six minutes. Add the white wine (there is no need to use the good stuff; you can of course but I used good old cooking wine and it came out great) and let the liquid reduce by about half. Throw in the capers, tomatoes and oregano. Stir the mixture and add the chicken back in. Cover and cook about 30 minutes over medium heat. That’s it. This dish is so simple and yet so elegant everyone is sure to love it.
A great side idea for the chicken is a simple pasta. Cook up a little spaghetti. In a small sauce pan heat two tablespoons of olive oil, a little fresh garlic, salt and pepper and a teaspoon of butter. Let the garlic cook for about four minutes but do not allow the oil and butter to smoke. Toss the pasta with the sauce, agli e olio and top with some Parmesan cheese and basil.
This is a great weeknight dish and since the chicken was brined it will not dry out in the fridge and is good for two days.